Stalin poster of the week is a weekly excursion into the fascinating world of propaganda posters of Iosif Stalin, leader of the USSR from 1929 until his death in 1953.
Here, Anita Pisch will showcase some of the most interesting Stalin posters, based on extensive research in the archives of the Russian State Library, and analyse what makes these images such successful propaganda.
Anita’s fully illustrated book, The personality cult of Stalin in Soviet posters, 1929 -1953, published by ANU Press, is available for free download here, and can also be purchased in hard copy from ANU Press.
The red banner is the most frequently recurring motif in the Soviet propaganda poster, appearing in approximately seventy percent of posters that contain an image of Stalin, while several more utilise a plain red backdrop which evokes both the banner and also the red background which is sometimes found in Russian Orthodox icons.
Scenes that do not feature banners are frequently indoor settings, or close-cropped photographic portraits, particularly black-and-white photographs of Stalin’s head.
The colour red had several connotations in the Soviet Union. The Russian word for ‘red,’ krasnyi, shares a common etymology with the word for ‘beautiful,’ krasivyi, and red is associated with beauty.
Red is a sacred colour in the Russian Orthodox Church, and symbolises life, love, warmth and the victory of life over death as made manifest in the Resurrection. It is also the colour of blood and as such can signify martyrdom in general, and Christ’s sacrifice of his own life for humankind in particular, with a red background on an icon symbolising eternal life or martyrdom.
The association of the red flag with communism dates to the Paris Commune of 1871, where it was raised at the seized Hotel de Ville by proletarian revolutionaries. The Russian communists adopted the red flag as the symbol of their movement and when the Bolsheviks seized power, they made the red flag, with yellow hammer and sickle insignia, the flag of the nation.
This 1933 poster by emerging graphic artist Iraklii Toidze is one of three known posters of Stalin of that year featuring the text:
With the banner of Lenin we were victorious in the battle for the October revolution.
With the banner of Lenin we were victorious in attaining decisive achievements in the struggle to build socialism.
With the same banner we will be victorious in our proletarian revolution throughout the world.
The text is from the Political Report of the Central Committee of the XVI Congress of the CPSU (b) speech delivered by Stalin on June 27, 1930. The other two posters of that year were by well-established artists Gustav Klutsis (stalin poster of the week 111) and Viktor Deni (coming up – stalin poster of the week 124).
Toidze’s poster juxtaposes the present and the past with Stalin adopting a static ‘hand-in’ pose behind a red podium.
Arrayed behind Stalin are the smiling Soviet people, male and female, of various nationalities and in the garb of various occupations, looking to the future.
Behind them are three banners and behind these two historical scenes – the storming of the Winter Palace with Lenin atop the turret of a tank, urging the revolutionaries forward; and a smaller scene with a younger Stalin, mimicking Lenin’s pose and speaking on his behalf at the semi-legal Sixth Party Congress of August 1917 in Petrograd. This significant Congress was held semi-legally between the February and October Revolutions. Lenin was in exile and unable to attend, and Stalin delivered the Political Report on behalf of the Bolshevik Party.
Stalin is thus seen as Lenin’s right-hand man in the revolutionary years, and as the ‘Lenin of today’ in the 1930s.
The publishing details on the poster misspell Toidze’s surname as ‘Taidze’, however the bottom right of the poster contains Toidze’s signature and can thus be safely attributed to him.
Anita Pisch‘s book, The personality cult of Stalin in Soviet posters, 1929 – 1953, is now available for free download through ANU Press open access, or to purchase in hard copy for $83. This lavishly illustrated book, featuring reproductions of over 130 posters, examines the way in which Stalin’s image in posters, symbolising the Bolshevik Party, the USSR state, and Bolshevik values and ideology, was used to create legitimacy for the Bolshevik government, to mobilise the population to make great sacrifices in order to industrialise and collectivise rapidly, and later to win the war, and to foster the development of a new type of Soviet person in a new utopian world.
Visit Anita Pisch’s website at www.anitapisch.com